WWE ’13 interview: THQ gets ready to lay the smackdown

By Dave Cook
10 August 2012 08:27 GMT

WWE ’13 is back for another year of brawling and testosterone. Dave Cook asks THQ’s Corey Ledesma about what’s new this year, and why this could be the greatest entry yet.

WWE 13 – Yuke’s

The WWE series is developed by Yuke’s, an Osakan studio which also produced THQ’s UFC games.

WWE 12 was the lowest-rated entry the team has developed to dat, with a metacritic in the low 70’s. All previous titles have scored above 75, with most in or approaching the 80’s.

Yuke’s was founded in 1993 and has turned its hand to multiple genres, notably racing, but in recent years has settled firmly on licensed sports sims.

Despite THQ’s strong Wii U development push, WWE 13 is coming to PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360, with no portable incarnations.

Like any yearly sporting franchise, WWE ’13 needs new changes to keep wrestling’s faithful coming back for more, and this year there is a much to discuss.

New physics, overhauled modes and some big name cameos are just part of what could make this year’s entry a real show-stopper, not to mention tackling one of the most exciting eras in the show’s history: ‘Attitude’.

But WWE is also a series that has swung between outstanding and average over the years, yet THQ shows real confidence that the days of inconsistency are firmly behind them. Read on to find out why.

VG247: WWE ’13 launches in November. What’s the feeling among the team? How confident are you that this is the best entry you’ve produced?

Corey Ledesma: We’re feeling great to be honest, we’re feeling really good. I think I mentioned this before, but I don’t know where I mentioned it exactly: When it comes to the single player campaign ‘Attitude’, I think it’s by far our strongest single-player campaign that we’ve had in the franchise before.

I’m really excited about it, probably because it’s about reliving that era, which was one of the most popular eras in all of wrestling history. There is so much great content and stories to be told there that haven’t been told for the last 15 years, and so on the single player campaign front I’m extremely excited.

I think fans – obviously, are already showing their excitement when they heard the news about it – but they’re going to be really stoked to be able to play that in WWE ’13.

And beyond single player?

On the other side of the game, gameplay continues to shine, it looks really strong. We’re able to continue to build on to of our Predator Engine from last year and make that even stronger. So the game is feeling really smooth and fluid and it’s really fun to play.

And so overall, we’re just really excited. I think every year, we think we have a fantastic product on our hand, and we think we outdid ourselves from the previous year. We’ve been able to keep that momentum going, and hopefully we can keep it going way into the future.

It always nice to take a look back and say, ‘wow’ and look back at how far the game has progressed through each year. Overall the sentiment on the team is that everything’s looking great.

That is the challenge isn’t it, especially when you have a yearly cycle? You have done a lot since Yuke’s took over the brand during the PSOne days. What have been the biggest challenges along the way?

I think with most game development, we face problems just like any company We have a large team of well over 150 people working, closer to 200, so having that many people work on one project presents its own challenges, just because there are so many dynamics that come into play.

We have our regular struggles like any other company in that regard, but on the WWE side of things, they are such a great partner in working with us and are really valuable in providing us with input and feedback.

They help us create the WWE videos we have in the game, and they’ve really been a great partner in that regard. The biggest challenge for us is really to keep up with them. Our development lead times are so long it’s hard to be as fluid and agile as WWE is with their television show.

It must be difficult to keep up with all of the storylines that play out each week and to get that into the game?

I think that’s probably the biggest challenge that we face, but the way we supplement that is we try to provide the WWE consumer with tools in the game with which they can keep their game up to date along with the show throughout the year.

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WWE 13’s Live Mode is one of its more
interesting innovations.

Things like the Create-a-Superstar, or the Universe mode where they can customise their own WWE experience. WWE just introduced a brand new Raw stage last week which means we have all these new graphics, so to be able to just pump those things out quickly can make it difficult to keep up.

So that’s the challenge, but it’s a challenge we definitely embrace because that’s really what makes WWE so great – the way they keep their product fresh – which is really helpful because that’s the same thing we’re trying to do with our product.

When people will pick up WWE ’13 they’ll feel like it’s an enhanced or different experience than WWE ’12, so WWE’s show really helps us maintain that freshness.

I actually wanted to touch on the Universe mode you mentioned earlier and the way it helps players keep the game fresh. What big changed have you made to Universe this year?

They won’t let me divulge information on WWE Universe mode yet, but we recognise that it’s a super-popular feature and so it’s not receiving any neglect on our end. We’re investing in the WWE Universe mode for the long term, so the only think I can say is that fans can definitely expect a lot of new features in that mode in WWE ’13.

You also mentioned the Predator Engine, which will go hand-in-hand with your new ‘OMG’ moments – the big table falls, chair shots and so on. How players really feel the impact of this while playing?

Our whole vision with spectacular moments is literally trying to recreate those crazy moments that you see on WWE television – really eye-popping, surprising moments that are so great in the show.

In order for us to really recreate that we wanted the visuals to be strong, so when you do see the ring collapse off the Superplex, we wanted all those small visuals to be spot on and top notch so it looked like exactly like you saw on television.

You’ll also see a lot of minor details like the ring shaking, collapsing, the ropes wildly jumping up and down and the referee falling. You’ll see all of that in there because we really wanted fans to almost do a double take when they saw that in the game like, ‘wow, that looks so real, just like I saw on television.’

On top of that we’re really excited about spectacular moments this year because a big part of that is how the crowd responds to those moments. So audio-wise we did this big overhaul this year, and so now we can really pump in that great sound, the crowd volume, and we can get chants going.

“You’ll also see a lot of minor details like the ring shaking, collapsing, the ropes wildly jumping up and down and the referee falling. You’ll see all of that in there because we really wanted fans to almost do a double take when they saw that in the game like, ‘wow, that looks so real, just like I saw on television.'”

How did you achieve this overhaul?

We were able to grab a lot of actual sound including crowd sounds, commentary lines from WWE broadcasts this year, and we were able to apply them to WWE ’13, which really gives it that authentic feel.

I think we felt in past games that maybe the crowd and the commentary weren’t really matching the excitement level of the gameplay. So our goal this year was really to step that up quite a bit, and to match those spectacular moments with that audio so that they go hand-in-hand to recreate the atmosphere of when those moves get pulled off.

One of the big things I wanted to ask you in terms of gameplay was balancing in multiplayer. Obviously this is a tricky thing to achieve in any fighting game, but how do you contend with that when there are so many Create-a-Wrestler combinations in the game?

With multiplayer it’s definitely a challenge to properly balance that aspect of the game, and part of the reason is the sheer volume of variables we have in gameplay. I mean we have over 70-plus characters you can play with, they range across all these different character sizes and stat levels, and so you have to balance those.

But we also have tons and tons of match types in a game – not just one-on-on matches – but we have up to six players in the ring, so balancing that can be very difficult. So we try to take individual match types and put them together in specific buckets so we can balance them differently.

What I mean by that is, in multiplayer matches with three or four, up to six players, those matches need to lay differently. You need to sustain damage quicker so that players stay down on the mat a little bit longer, because if players are constantly getting up, nothing ever gets accomplished in those matches.

So you can never like, set up the ladder to reach up for the title in ladder matches if everyone is quick to their feet. That would make matches go on for 30 minutes – a really long time.

Balancing in multiplayer is totally different to one-on-one matches because we absolutely do want you to get up on your feet a little faster in the beginning, because we want to keep that fast-paced action going. We want the pacing to be there.

By doing that you can really feel it when your character starts to get tired and slow down as the match goes on.

You’re absolutely right, that’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. So if I do a move on you at the start of a match, you’re going to pop right up because you’re fresh and you don’t have a lot of damage yet. But we really want you to notice that you are sustaining damage as your guy starts slowing down a lot.

That’s when the momentum can start to swing one way or another. If I get a few successful runs on you and I start to get your damage levels up, I know you’re going to slow down. As you reach critical damage in certain body parts, that damage actually affects gameplay.

If I get you critical damaged in your legs, you’re not going to be able to run for as long, your walking speed is going to be affected, and if I damage your arms it’s going to make it easier for me to break out of submission moves.

Many of those details are embedded in gameplay and it really allows you to develop strategies of how you’re going to approach targeting your opponent, what their strengths and weaknesses may be, and how critical it is to be the first one to inflict damage on your opponent.

How does all of this factor into Create-a-Superstar and the many combinations you can have?

Well that changes the whole dynamic, because now we allow you to assign any move you could possibly want to your character, which means that the thousands of moves we have in the game all need to be properly balanced and so that’s the tricky part.

That means we have to spend a lot of time going through every single move, trying them out, making sure that they don’t really drastically impact balance, and sometimes the community might sift through the moves and find one that has a small little flaw in it that makes it a little unbalanced.

We use the community to help provide that feedback, so that in the future – whether its through patches or new versions of the game – we can modify those moves and properly balance them.

And that is the beauty of having such an open framework of course: Your ability to patch and update whenever issues arise.

“We have such a die-hard fan base who are dedicated to the WWE franchise and to this game. They spend thousands of hours playing it, and they know best in a lot of regards, because they’re out there playing and seeing exploits or issues, and they’re pretty eager to report them to us because, just like they do, we all want the best game possible. We really value that feedback and we really hold our community in high regard.”

Absolutely, and we have such a die-hard fan base who are dedicated to the WWE franchise and to this game. They spend thousands of hours playing it, and they know best in a lot of regards, because they’re out there playing and seeing exploits or issues, and they’re pretty eager to report them to us because, just like they do, we all want the best game possible.

We really value that feedback and we really hold our community in high regard, because they provide us with such valuable information to make the game better and to feel more polished each year.

That level of interaction with the player is crucial in a game like this and I saw – while playing WWE ’12 last year – so many in-game items created by the community, as well as commenting on items and rating them. Have you taken user-generated content further this year?

That is by far the most popular feature in the game, and what’s so great about being able to share the user-generated content is that it really leverages some of the talented community members we have out there that spend a lot of hours creating that content, and doing a superb job – far better than I could ever do [laughs].

What a great thing to have to be able to simply go on to a database, search for anything you’re looking for, and to just download that into you game. I’ve seen some amazing pieces of content out there, and we just really appreciate our fans for spending that much time.

That really motivates us to offer that sharing experience and to make it better and better each year. It drives us to make the tools and customisation suites much more robust so they can continue to build even more compelling and awesome content.

We look at creation modes like Create-a-Superstar or Create-an-Entrance and find ways that we can continue to help offer new customisation options, so that our community can continue to create.

Hand-in-hand with community goes the social aspects of gaming. What is your approach to social integration this year?

I can’t talk about online and our approach to social aspects this year, but I will say this: I agree with you. When we go online and see WWE trending every other day thanks to the show’s content, it’s truly amazing.

They have such a vocal community and an active community that we really want to tap into, because it’s great to have people talking about the game and talking about their experiences, but also sharing things that they found in the game that maybe other people don’t know about.

We want to develop a tight-knit community that’s all working together to have fun and to make the game better. We absolutely would love to tap into that.

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WWE 13: Mike Tyson’s in it.

Mike Tyson’s involvement in WWE ’13 has created a lot of buzz among the community so far, are you able to talk a little more about his involvement?

Absolutely. We’re excited to have Mike Typson on board, he hasn’t been in a videogame for a very long time and what’s really cool is that one – he played such a cool part in the Attitude era of the single player campaign, and that timeframe back then.

He was such a big star at that time – well he still is a big star – but at that time he was around his peak of popularity, and for the WWE to introduce a character like that was a really bold and ambitious statement.

At the same time it’s just cool to introduce a character that’s so different from all the other WWE superstars and divas in the game. He’s a boxer, so he’s got a really cool move set of haymakers and hooks and punches that really sets him apart. He’s really fun to play.

Can you tell us about other storylines from the Attitude era that are in the campaign?

The only thing I can mention right now is that Stone Cold Steve Austin is a major focal point of that experience, because he was by far the most popular character at that time. He really helped the WWE push past the WCW in that regard.

We’re covering a period in time when the WWE was really down in the dumps, close to bankruptcy, ratings weren’t so hot and they really had to push past WCW by introducing some interesting characters, and doing some really edgy storylines that pushed the envelope on their side.

As we get closer to launch we’ll start to detail what the dates in those time periods are, and the superstars you’ll be able to play in that mode.

How did the superstars help you get a feel for the vibe during those tough times, and to really nail the stories?

We worked really close with the talent, they provided voiceover work for us and we really wanted them to give an authentic spin on whatever they were feeling back then. So we allowed them to ad lib or to feel free to offer feedback or advice on their character or their story at those times.

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So’s Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Often they’re so willing to support us with that, and they understand how important the Attitude era is to the game and to wrestling in general. So they’ve been a big help to us in trying to make the experience feel authentic.

Recently I had a chance to speak with Mark Henry about what it was like back then, about his character and just what the feeling was in the locker room. So its really great to spend time with these guys and find out the insider information that helps us recreate that era.

Has anything mad or funny ever happened to you while working with one of the guys in the studio?

Umm [laughs]. I don’t know. I think if you know much about wrestling, a lot of these guys are good pranksters, they like to tease you a bit and keep you on your toes. I constantly get some ribbing about the character stats and so forth.

Mark Henry was coming across really intimidating about his character’s strength stat and he really wanted us to bump that up. Sat face to face with him, you pretty much agree to whatever he says [laughs].

So for the most part, there are no crazy stories. They’re really just truly professional athletes and they like to have a good time just like anyone else does, and I like to see that as they show the human side of their character.

It really is a pleasure working with them, and they really understand that having fun doing what you do is really important and that being in videogames is a fun part of the job that they do.

When we see the excitement on their faces at seeing their in-game character for the first time, that really encourages us to make the best game we can.

WWE 13 arrives on PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 on October 30 in the US and November 1 in Europe.

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